We were leaving the Honduran border series of queues and offices, documents in hand that officially cleared us of any further obligation to the country when it hit me hard.
There was a dog, so thin that the bones of her pelvis were so prominent that they completely obscured her genital area. It was hot, even at 10 am, and she was lapping listlessly at a filthy puddle of something that probably contained very little actual water.
I doubt her little doggie life lasted the rest of that day.
It isn’t like I haven’t seen street dogs hours or days from death before. It’s simply a part of life in much of the world. However, after our time in Guatemala and Honduras it was that little dog that broke me, because we all know that when it comes to the impoverished the privileged of the world often tend to focus more on animals than they do people.
I’ve seen the do-gooders. I know some of the do-gooders. And while some do good things to help people it seems that more of them do things to help animals. Shelters, spay and neuter clinics, airline escorts for Mexican and Central American dogs and cats to go to their cushy new homes in the United States or Canada.
All while people are left to lap from the same dirty puddle.
People from all over the world visit Mexico and Central America all the time. They zip line in Costa Rica, frolic on the white sand beaches of Mexico, and dive in the crystal Caribbean waters of Honduras. But more often than not these trips are carefully constructed, staged by tour operators, and guarded by high resort walls. There’s nothing wrong with this; I truly believe everyone should travel and how they do it is their choice.
But what about the things that live outside those tours and walls? What about the people?
I’ve written about this before. Unless you’re a backpacker or overlanding like we are you rarely come into contact with the people who call your dream vacation destination home. Unless they’re mixing your margarita or scraping the callouses from your feet you don’t see them, you don’t ask about their life, and you don’t do these things because you’re on vacation and you deserve to enjoy yourself.
But also, you don’t want to know.
You don’t want to know that your bartender lives in a one room cinder block house. You don’t want to know that the woman carefully polishing your toenails can’t afford to send her kids to school. You don’t want to know that they too suffer, just like the dogs.
I’m as guilty as anyone of turning a blind eye. The simple fact that we can afford to make this trip put us squarely in the middle of the white privilege circle. But even the dead and dying humans on the sidewalks of New Dehli didn’t prepare me for driving the roads of Central America.
I romanticized this trip way too much right from the start. I envisioned wide open beaches, remote jungle villages, and endless adventure. While much of that has been realized too much more of it has not. This is aside from the realization that this mode of travel is really hard. What’s become so difficult for me is passing through these tiny villages, women toeing the edge of the road trying to sell us sacks of unidentifiable food, the desperation so clear on their face as we approach, then the anger when we don’t slow down.
I’ve taken very few photos over the last two months. My instagram feed is bare. That’s not to say that I haven’t wanted to. The haunted and wary eyes of the children that want me to buy gum are definitely photo worthy. These are the types of photos are meant to make you feel something, like the photo of the ash covered, shell shocked Syrian boy on the chair in the hospital. These photos are supposed to make you care.
But you don’t. Or you do but remind yourself how helpless you are and that you have your own problems or children to care for. These are not invalid excuses; we all have our own shit to deal with but the simple fact that we have the option to look away constitutes that white privileged guilt that, well, we’re all pretty much guilty of.
We don’t have to look if we don’t want to.
But on this trip I’ve had to look. Our windows aren’t blacked out, hell, neither are my eyes. There is simply no way not to see the tin and tarp shacks and the barely dressed toddlers in the dirt surrounded by scrawny chickens and heaps of garbage. It’s there, right in front of everybody.
Everybody who looks, that is.
So if you’ve made it this far you might be asking yourself, “Why the hell is she complaining? Why isn’t she doing something?”
I could ask you that same question but you might want to think carefully about your answers.
Do you tip your bartenders and servers in Mexico? Do you buy your ice cream from the man pushing the street cart or do you pop into whatever resembles the local 7-11? Do you avoid a certain city or country because of perceived violence and moan about how great it was in the old days without thinking of the people who have to live there? Do you slip your extra food to a street dog instead of the child who wants desperately to shine your shoes?
I’m not here to shame anyone. Most of the people I know are good people and some of them go above and beyond to serve communities at home and abroad. I’m also not here to set myself apart. I’ve avoided the old man with his hand held out for money, his head held down in shame. I’ve shouted unkind words in Spanish to street kids whose eyes are hardened as they aggressively tell me to buy tortillas after I’ve declined three times.
I sometimes don’t look out the window anymore as we pass through another rural village slapped together from scrap wood and detritus. I don’t see the dull eyes staring at our shiny American vehicle passing through, but I feel them.
I think I’ll feel them for the rest of my life.
Again, I have no answers. You have no answers. Today’s state of affairs around the world has left so many feeling helpless, even those of us in the guilt circle. But one thing we can say as individuals is that I did not do this.
But someone did. Someone left Honduras poverty stricken, someone left Mexico embroiled in violence, someone committed genocide in Guatemala, and someone reduced Syria to an unimaginable and unforgettable photo.
Let’s not mince words here; money rules our world. Corporations are eager to profit from the desperate and governmental officials turn blind eyes but they can certainly feel the money slipped into their dirty hands. Resources are exploited and people are discarded. It happens everywhere, even in your own backyard.
Yet despite everything I’ve said I see people around the world rising up, using their voices, demanding that something resembling humanity be restored in our world. I’ve met people on this trip who fill extra suitcases with medical supplies and books. I know people who live as expats yet do amazing things in their communities to help the local populations. The human ones.
I know people who realize that all is not lost.
So as sad and as frustrating as this all is I’m looking at you. The do gooders who actually do something good.
As for me, I’m digging deep and trying to uncover the real reason for this trip and my purpose in it. And I think part of that purpose begins with always looking out the window.
No matter how bad it is.